Claude Wallace arrived in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, on Dec. 15, 1942, more than a year after Japan attacked the U.S. Navy fleet and other military installations on Dec. 7, 1941.
“It was still a mess,” he said.
His speech will be based on personal notes and other research.
Wallace, of Cleveland, was raised on a farm in McMinn County until he was 16 years old when his parents consented for him to join the Navy on Aug. 11, 1942. He went through four weeks of boot camp in Great Lakes, Ill., before the Navy transferred him to Norfolk, Va., to join his ship on which he served as a cook.
“I was assigned to an LST, a ship that has the big front doors and a ramp going down,” he said. “Our duty was to put the men and equipment on the beach.”
The tank landing ship proceeded from Pearl Harbor to war in the South Pacific.
“I was in the South Pacific 35 months and 18 days,” he said. “I was in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. That’s when we set (Gen. Douglas) MacArthur back in the Philippines.”
The Battle of Leyte Gulf raged over a period of three days from Oct. 23-26, 1944. Four months later, Wallace found himself in the Battle of Iwo Jima which officially began Feb. 19 and ended March 26, 1945.
“We secured Iwo the 16th of March and 14 days later on April 1, we went into Okinawa,” he said.
The Battle of Okinawa began on a Sunday, which was both Easter and April Fool’s Day.
“We secured it June 23. We formed a flotilla and were going to invade Japan Aug. 20, but they dropped the bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and Nagasaki on Aug. 9. The Japs surrendered the 15th,” Wallace said.
After a period of hospitalization in Japan for a gunshot wound to his right leg, Wallace transferred to Memphis where he was discharged April 16, 1946. He re-enlisted Jan. 28, 1950, for four more years and served aboard the light cruiser U.S.S. Roanoke (CL-145) throughout the Korean War until his enlistment ended in July 1954.
Wallace, who served as a cook during both enlistments, suffered a wound to his right leg during a landing at a time when the Marines were having difficulty disembarking.
“An officer told us to go by the armory and get some machine guns and go up to the bow (front) of the ship and return enemy fire so the Marines could get off of the ship,” he said. “We were standing on the bow of the ship and I saw 18 Marines lying on the beach. One of them was kicking but the medics couldn’t get to him because of enemy fire. I saw that boy kick his last kick and about that time, something hit me in my right leg like a sledgehammer and knocked me about four feet. I looked over at the four guys who were with me to help me and they were dead.”
VFW Post 2598 is located at 3370 North Ocoee St. For more information, please call 423-476-8442.